Lesson planning. It’s something educators do on a regular basis and something we must continue to do through these traumatic circumstances. Our students need us now more than ever to take into account the social component of remote learning.
Students used to arrive in our classrooms at a predetermined time for a predetermined number of minutes. Classroom settings were highly socialized environments leveraged to increase student achievement. Now, in an online learning environment dependent on each student’s individual motivation, everything has changed. We all see some of our shy students blossom in their remote learning classes. However, others struggle with the freedom of learning at their own pace. Youthful enthusiasm for technology is countered by feelings of isolation and lack of motivation. For us, their teachers, the overarching question has become, “How do we know our students are learning?”
Think back in time to your busy brick and mortar classroom. Students are talking to each other, asking questions, reading, writing, etc. Those same students are now possibly alone in front of a screen, without the benefit of interacting with their peers or their teacher. They may be trying to concentrate despite any number of distractions. While we strive to keep things the same, there are significant differences in remote classroom environments. Lesson plans need additional components to foster the social activity that is so important in learning. Some of us are buried under countless assignments students have submitted. Most of these assignments include writing for us to read and grade in order to measure their understanding. We must engineer our online space to increase the real time visual and verbal feedback that was so important in our physical classrooms.
Where in the lesson plan are the most salient places to weave in an online social component?
- Begin with the assignment itself - along with a brief text, communicate the learning objective and activities by making a video for students to access. Make sure to greet your students and tell them you are glad they “are here”. When planning the assignment overview, include special days for students, e.g. “dress down” days, spirit days, show-and-tell activities, etc. Word will get out - especially if you participate!
- Opening - Your students miss you! They miss each other! Start the class with a chat room check in. Give students the option of expressing themselves verbally, visually with a picture or art, audibly with a song or a verbal greeting. Instead of a warm-up, we might ask students to join a quick online chat session. Chat room videos and text can be saved for other students to access and add to at a later time.
- Synchronous teaching - If you use a slide deck, go through it together with your students during synchronous learning sessions. Visit websites with them so they have a visual cue that they are in the right place and know what to click. Most of us have learned to keep everyone muted during a conference because of background noise, but make sure the chat is open for students to communicate. Some platforms have a thumbs up/down button for students to use. Take advantage of that feature to assess student understanding. Let students use the comment feature as you teach. Students who access the lesson asynchronously will have the advantage of reading and adding to the questions and comments their peers have written.
- Real time student collaboration - While this may be a “new skill” for our students, it is one they will need as they advance through their education. Most college courses require some online discussion.
- Teach them how to do it. Take advantage of breakout sessions if available. Students can collaborate in small groups while you “circulate” during class time. Assign a facilitator to keep the conversation on topic. Use the comment section to give the group feedback about their conversation.
- Closing - as the learning sequence of activities concludes, have a choice of discussion boards where students write comments and respond to the comments of others. Create more than one discussion board by telling students about an upcoming topic and asking them to suggest topics. Be concrete about your expectations. Students can be graded on their participation only or their participation and the quality of their posts.
The great benefit of online video and discussion boards is they can be accessed and added to at any time. Our own timely feedback and answers to student questions will encourage them to participate more. Privately communicate with those students who are not participating to find out why. You might run across a student who needs some individual coaching to get them started. Our ultimate goal is to get students talking to us and each other during the lesson. In this way, we can see and hear their engagement and gauge their understanding.
We at Teaching Matters acknowledge that these are extraordinarily traumatic times to be educating our youth, know that we see you, we hear you, we support you, and we stand with you.
Written by: Margaret Glendis